Dear Amicus Agony
I face difficulties at work when my boss asks that I react to letters from opposing counsel in a manner which I feel to be unreasonable. I understand that he has years of experience over me but I do not feel comfortable with how unreasonable and oppressive a position he expects me to take. At times, he would also get impatient at me when I do not react in a similarly aggressive fashion on other occasions. I hear from my friends that opposing counsels perceive our conduct to be ridiculous and sometimes I am made to advocate these positions in court even though I do not feel that they are entirely reasonable.
Hoping to be reasonable
Dear Passive-aggressive Pear
You may wish to have a chat with your boss on the issue. It is possible that your boss is advocating certain positions and employing certain strategies in respect of particular matters which necessitate more aggressive reactions to opposing parties. As you mentioned, your boss has more years of experience and his case management approach could be fuelled by the knowledge and expertise gained from such experience. It could also help your court advocacy to comprehend the underlying rationale for these seemingly aggressive positions so that you can better put forth your case in court.
It is also possible that your boss is simply unaware of the aggressive nature of and adverse reactions to the positions which he has taken because no one has ever spoken to him on this issue. Highlighting and explaining these adverse reactions from opposing counsels (and the court, if any) to your boss may encourage a change of attitude in your boss and perhaps smoothen some feathers on all parts. We all hope to be better advocates of our clients’ cases but ultimately our duty is to the court. As members of the Bar, we should also strive to maintain professional courtesy to our learned friends even in the midst of advocating our clients’ positions (however acrimonious the matter may be).
All the best
Dear Amicus Agony
Having spent a few years in practice, I am at the stage where I am wondering what’s next? Many of my batch-mates have gone on to work as in-house counsels and I am not sure if that is the next step for me. While I enjoy practice, the long hours and stress makes me wonder if this is really worth it. However, I am not certain that I will enjoy the work of an in-house counsel. Furthermore, I don’t seem to have the skillset which are typically sought for in potential in-house counsels. What should I do?
Finding my way
Dear Lost Lemon
You are not alone in your struggles. It may perhaps be cold comfort to know that many junior lawyers will go through the same thought process which you have. However, this also means that there is a light at the end of the tunnel which many others have travelled through.
If you are interested in a position as an in-house counsel, you can start by speaking with your friends who have gone into the in-house life. Find out from them the kind of work that they do, the struggles they face as in-house counsel, the reasons they moved from private practice to in-house, etc. These conversations can help to shape your decision-making matrix and guide you as you navigate through this journey. If you decide to move in-house, you should also start finding out the qualities which a good in-house counsel should have. Start building and strengthening these qualities so as to put yourself in good stead when the right opportunity comes knocking.
If you do decide to stay in practice, you can look at how your practice life is structured. Perhaps it is not a complete change from private practice to in-house which you require, but simply a change of the law firm or area of practice which you are in. You can start thinking about issues such as what you really value in practice and what you value outside of practice. Speak to seniors who have stayed and find out what keeps them going despite the hours and stress. As many senior lawyers have said, practice life is a marathon and we need to pace ourselves to ensure sustainability in our practice.
Best of luck